News and Interviews

The Lucky Seven, with David Sherman

David Sherman

David Sherman's The Alcoholic's Daughter (Guernica Editions) examines a complex relationship that slowly descends from troubled to abusive. From the outside, Annie and Evan have the perfect dynamic. But as Annie's alcoholism and neuroses begin to spin out of control, she becomes verbally and physically abusive, leaving Evan trapped and afraid. 

Today we welcome David to Open Book as part of our Lucky Seven interview series, to speak about The Alcoholic's Daughter and the cycle of violence, as well as the unique experiences of male victims of intimate partner violence. He tells us about how his newspaper background played out in telling this story, the difficult question his protagonist faces of when enough is enough, and how exercise is his tool of choice for breaking through tough writing blocks. 

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, The Alcoholic’s Daughter.

David Sherman:

I came from a newspaper background. In my day there were two kinds of reporters, those who lived and drank hard and those who didn’t. Despite my best attempts I couldn’t acquire a true taste for alcohol until decades later, but the subject matter always fascinated me. Alcohol is so prevalent, so destructive, often so enjoyable, I kept pecking the ground like a bird hunting worms, looking for a way to write about it. Daughter came about, in part, discovering a large cohort of people called Adult Children of Alcoholics.

At the same time, I was writing a story about spousal abuse for the Citizen and discovered abuse of men was, statistically, at least, comparable to abuse of women. But there were no services for abused men. In fact not only was it described to me as “The dirty little secret,” men also got the worst of it by the legal system. I won’t call it a justice system because men rarely got justice. And the book is also a love story. So it’s how an alcoholic’s legacy messes up several lives, including the unsuspecting protagonist, and then finds he is further abused by the legal system and even his own lawyers. Everyone I spoke to about marital dissolution had stories to tell about lawyers feeding off their misery.

OB:

Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?

DS:

What price love? It emerged as I wrote. Despite the obstacles the protagonist faces within the love affair, he always has to ask himself, “Is this worth it?” He compares it to driving a favourite old car. At what point do you stop repairing it and sell it. At what point is enough is enough and how do you know?

OB:

Did the book change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?

DS:

It was a challenge to explore a tumultuous relationship but make the narrative and background compelling enough so that it wasn’t just a story of internal and external dialogue. I tend to write quickly and then rewrite often. So I added more backdrops, more images, and then more music as a balm to the pain for the protagonist but also as a plot point. The protagonist is saved by the curative powers of music and the camaraderie of the guys in the band. It took eight weeks for the first draft, give or take, then about six months on and off. I like to take a break between drafts and leave it simmer for a bit.

OB:

What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?

DS:

Newspapers teach you to write anywhere under any conditions. So I like the gravity chair by the sliding doors of my bedroom because it looks down on the lake, but I can write anywhere and often do – porch, dining room table, sofa. I don’t do the café thing, too many distractions. I use a laptop and an iPad. I often like to write for a bit at night on the iPad and transfer it to the manuscript in the morning, mostly long notes or a scene I know I will incorporate somewhere. I’ve taken voice memos on my phone when I’m driving or away from home. When I was working out I would use the gym phone and phone thoughts into my voice mail. And, of course, I need food and preparation of same can often be a nice break away from the screen while I think about where the work is going, as long as I’m careful not to cut a finger off.

OB:

What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?

DS:

Walk in the woods, swim, maybe drink if it’s late at night and I’m the only one awake, but exercise seems to work best to get brain cranked up.

OB:

What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.

DS:

Humour, tragedy, race, politics, great images, organic metaphors and no dross and no redundancy and complex characters with a dark side. Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, where every metaphor was specific to the subject, had a sprawling, original subject matter, was breathtaking.

OB:

What are you working on now?

DS:

I’ve started work on novel and a play for local theatre company, both about a woman in her late 50s and her pregnant daughter 30 years younger who is wrestling with whether she should have the child as her busy artist mother pushes back against the idea of being a grandmother. 

_________________________

David Sherman has worked as a newspaper and magazine journalist and editor, CBC radio producer, playwright, filmmaker, screenwriter, singer/songwriter and now novelist. His latest play, Lost and Found, produced by Infinitheatre and written with his partner Nancy Lee, is a musical, inspired in part, by The Alcoholic’s Daughter. They wrote the songs and story and performed the play in Montreal, B.C. and the Laurentiens. He is now working on another novel in between walking in the woods with his Chocolate Lab named Jesse and swimming in the lake behind his house, a century-old former fishing lodge, where he occasionally obsesses over dinner parties.

Related reading

The Alcoholic’s Daughter

For Annie and Evan it was love at first sight. To the outside world, Annie was vivacious and charming, a successful broadcaster and writer. But once they start living together, Evan discovers Annie works desperately to hide her all-consuming fears, obsessions and neuroses. And her alcoholism. Evan believes love is forever and will conquer all. But soon Annie's closeted physical and verbal abuse, control and emotional disorders turns his life upside down. Sex, drugs and booze offer little succour but the true nightmare begins when Evan decides he's had enough and finds himself behind bars. He soon discovers the legal system delivers little justice, has its own penchant for abuse and men have few rights.